White Sox season preview: Infielders

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White Sox season preview: Infielders

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Today, we kick off the home stretch of the preseason with a look at what to expect from the White Sox infield in 2012, specifically looking at the defense. Check back later Monday for a look at what the infield could provide offensively.

While Detroit may gaffe their way to a few losses thanks to extremely suspect infield defense, the White Sox may have a few victories saved by the stellar gloves of Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham. Those three, plus the sure hands of Paul Konerko, the run-saving abilities of A.J. Pierzynski and the slick fielding of backup Eduardo Escobar could combine to give the Sox their best defensive infield since Joe Crede and Juan Uribe manned the left side.

Ramirez should've won at least one Gold Glove by now; that he hasn't tells you all you need to know about the legitimacy of that award. Over the last three seasons, Ramirez has been a top-three shorstop in baseball, in the same zip code as Brendan Ryan and J.J. Hardy, per UZR. Ramirez is the defensive stalwart of the infield, and he and Beckham combine to give the White Sox outstanding infield defense up the middle.

Beckham started to come into his own defensively at second base last year. His low error total was great, but more importantly, he began to show better range and instincts as he settled in as a second baseman. Expect to see Beckham make more difficult plays as he enters his third year at second base -- his familiarity with the position and Ramirez should pay off in a big way.

The same can be said for Morel, who enters his second year as the team's starting third baseman with a greater knowledge base of opponents -- something that should come in handy in terms of his instincts and positioning. And it can't hurt that he has arguably the best defensive third baseman in franchise history saying he's a great defender.

Sliding across the diamond to first base, Konerko has as sure a pair of hands of any first baseman in the game. He's never had good range, but if you hit a ball in his vicinity, he'll make the play. That's more of a problem for secondthirdshort -- positions where you want to have guys who can go out of their zones to make a play -- but for first base, it's not the biggest problem ever. A good pair of hands is extremely important at first, and Konerko has just that.

Behind the plate will be a little tricky in all this defensive optimism. Pierzynski, defensively, hasn't rated as being a good catcher in quite some time now. His caught stealing percentages -- which have been at or below the league average for the last decade -- are actually not accurate as to how many runners Pierzynski has thrown out (pitcher pickoffs count toward the total). By Baseball-Reference's count, Pierzynski threw out 13 runners last year, the lowest total of any starting catcher in the majors.

But Pierzysnki earns another paragraph because of his aforementioned ability to prevent runs by doing other things right -- namely, his ability to work with the Sox pitching staff. Pierzynski's knowledge of opponents and ability to pick up on tendencies during pitch sequences has been pretty valuable to the White Sox since he joined the team in 2005. And for that, he deserves some praise.

The backups -- Escobar, Flowers and Lillibridge -- range from good to average-at-best on the defensive spectrum. Escobar is a plus defender who can play third base, shortstop and second base, but he's not much of a hitter. Conversely, Lillibridge's infield defense isn't as good, but he has a much better bat and can play first base. Expect Lillibridge to see most of the backup infield playing time, although if Dayan Viciedo needs a day off in left on the same day, say, Beckham needs a day off at second, both he and Escobar will find their way into the lineup.

How Robin Ventura uses Tyler Flowers will be one of the more interesting managerial trends to follow in 2012 -- no full-time catcher has played in more games since 2005 than Pierzynski, who has appeared in 40 more games than Yadier Molina, the next closest backstop on the list.

That meant White Sox backups didn't play a whole lot: Ramon Castro (91 games, 2009-2011), Toby Hall (79, 2007-2008) and Chris Widger (72, 2005-2006) saw the most action. But the Sox haven't ever had a young catcher come through to back up Pierzynski, and given this is the last year of Pierzynski's contract, it'll be interesting to see if Ventura wants to get Flowers in more to determine if the 26-year-old is a viable long-term replacement.

To sum it up

Ground balls should be fun this year, whether they're hit to short, second or third.

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

The White Sox will battle the Oakland Athletics today, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:05 p.m.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon vs. Kendall Graveman

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White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Those pesky, persistent trade rumors continue to be no match for White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana. 

The 2016 All-Star was outstanding on Thursday afternoon as he made his first Cactus League appearance in nearly a month. Still waiting on word if he'll be the team's Opening Day starter, Quintana pitched seven scoreless innings against a thin Cincinnati Reds lineup in a 4-2 White Sox victory at Camelback Ranch. 

Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts, Quintana limited Cincinnati to two hits in a 79-pitch outing and struck out three.

"I just try to turn the page quick and keep going," Quintana said. "Never watch behind me and try to go ahead every time I can. I want to put my team in a good position to win games. It's good when you win games in spring training. It brings good energy for the season."

Quintana on Thursday followed the same format he did for Colombia against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Reds hitters he faced. Even after he surrendered a hit, Quintana got back to work. Featuring a fastball that sat between 91-93 mph early, Quintana had Cincinnati hitters off-balance all day. After he exited the game, Quintana sprinted to the right-field bullpen to throw 15 more pitches as he continues to build arm strength.

The outing is more of the same consistency the White Sox have come to expect from their trusted lefty. It's also why they refuse to remove the high sticker price attached to Quintana, who has competed at least 200 innings the past four seasons with a 3.32 overall ERA in that span.

As Opening Day approaches, the White Sox continue to listen to offers for Quintana but have refused to budge on their price. Manager Rick Renteria said on Wednesday he needed a few more days before naming his starter for the April 3 opener, which suggests the team would still trade Quintana at this late date. But unless one of the team's suitors finally antes up, it's hard to believe that anyone other than Quintana would take the mound against the Detroit Tigers when the 2017 season kicks off at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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Quintana is on target to pitch again Tuesday, though perhaps in a minor league game as the White Sox face Kansas City that day. His next turn would come on April 2, which would easily afford the team the chance to push him back one day. 

Giving Quintana the nod in the opener would be the latest honor bestowed upon him. Earlier this month, Quintana dominated the eventual WBC champion as he didn't allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth inning. That performance came after an outstanding campaign in which Quintana finally appeared in an All-Star Game.

All of the above has Quintana feeling pretty good about his abilities. 

"I have confidence in me, and every time I go out there I just try to have fun and enjoy that time," Quintana said. "I spend good time with my teammates. Every time I go to the mound, I feel pretty good."

Nicky Delmonico homered and singled in a run in the victory for the White Sox. He drove in three runs and hit his third homer of the spring. Leury Garcia also had two hits and made a pair of nice defensive plays at second base.